Wednesday, 5 October 2011

By on October 5th, 2011 in personal, technology

08:47 – I happened across this article, Best paid jobs: A guide to UK salaries, and was surprised both by how little UK employees earn and how small the spread between best- and worst-paid jobs. The top-paid job, for example, is “Directors and chief executives of major organisations” at £96,202 (about $146,000/year). That’s a small fraction–10% to 1% or less–of what similar jobs pay in the US. Physicians, corporate managers, and senior officials make about £70,000/year, senior police officers (inspectors and above) make about £55,000/year (is an inspector really considered senior?), and a few other jobs pay £50,000 or more. After that, it starts decreasing rapidly. Nurses, at position #149 of the 402 jobs listed, make only about £26,000/year.

Of course, it’s not just how much you earn. Tax rates and other cost-of-living issues determine how much that salary buys. And in that respect the UK suffers greatly in comparison to the US. Tax rates are very high, and everything costs much more than it does in the US. Twenty years ago, one of our friends who’d moved here from the UK had her family over for a visit. I had a chance to talk for some time with her brother-in-law, Gavin. This was his first trip to the US, and he couldn’t believe the prices here.

At the time, the £:$ exchange rate was about $2/£, and he was stunned to find that everything cost the same (or less) in dollars here as it cost in pounds in England. “Everything?”, I asked him. “Everything!”, he replied. “That car that costs $20,000 here would be £20,000 at home. We just paid about $70 for children’s clothing that would have been £70 or £80 in England. Last night, we had dinner with wine at a nice restaurant for $120. That would have been £120 or more in England.” And to make matters worse, he said, his salary in pounds was less than a third of what a comparable job paid here in dollars. Then we started to talk about things like property and income tax rates, housing costs, and so on. It may be no coincidence that soon after Gavin and Eileen returned to the UK he requested and was granted a transfer to one of his company’s facilities in Estonia.

16:17 – The postman just showed up with my Baby Kindle 4. I’ve set up WiFi access, and it’s charging right now. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than my Kindle 3, and of course lacks a physical keyboard. One thing did surprise me; the color appears to be white or off-white on the Amazon pages, but in real life it’s charcoal gray, much like the Kindle 3. Perhaps identical; I haven’t compared them yet because the K4 is in my office and the K3 is out in the den.

Once it finishes charging I’ll transfer some books to it. Ironically, despite Amazon’s claim that no computer is required, charging is only via USB unless you already have the AC->USB dongle or buy one separately. So, I suppose Amazon is entitled to make that claim, but only if they include a disclaimer “unless you ever want to charge the unit”.

The power switch gave me pause momentarily. Unlike the slide switch on the Kindle 3, this one is a push switch. I was trying to turn on the new Kindle without looking at the switch, and wondered why it refused to slide. I actually prefer the push switch.

The ads are not intrusive, particularly since I seldom keep the Kindle 3 in sleep mode and so never see the screensaver. Presumably the Kindle 4 works the same way–press the switch to put it to sleep; press and hold the switch to turn it off. The only other place the ads appear is at the bottom of the home page, where they occupy only a small fraction of the screen. I’ll probably actually look at the ads periodically. They’ve had stuff like a $20 Amazon coupon for $10 and so on.

The smaller battery is a minor concern. Amazon rates the Baby Kindle 4 at 30 days of battery life, but that assumes only 30 minutes of reading per day, or a total of 15 hours of reading. As always, it’s page turns that take power, and since I read something like six times faster than average, 30 minutes a day of reading for me is probably as many page turns as perhaps three hours of reading by an average reader. So, I’m expecting maybe five or six actual reading hours per charge, which means I’ll be recharging every two or three days on average days and probably once a day on heavier reading days.

27 Comments and discussion on "Wednesday, 5 October 2011"

  1. Dave B. says:

    I wonder how widely skewed Bob’s US/UK comparison is given he lives in a relatively low cost of living area of the US. I think an NYC or SF comparison to the UK wouldn’t be as wildly different as comparing Winston Salem to the UK. I wonder how much cost of living varies across the UK?

  2. ech says:

    I have a good friend that works for a large multi-national, with HQ in the Netherlands. He makes a significantly higher salary than his counterparts in Europe. However, they have more vacation, earlier retirement, and expense accounts. When he travels, he’s on the typical US system of hotel cost plus a reasonable meal & incidental per diem. However, the European employees get that, plus have access to an expense account. So when he travels there, they all go out to eat on the company dime. When they visit here, they go out on the company dime.

    If you factor in the above, I would expect that the “total compensation” was pretty equivalent. The compensation is structured that way since many of the taxes on businesses (unemployment, pension, etc.) are based on salary. So the company can offer fringe benefits that aren’t taxed on either end.

  3. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I wonder how widely skewed Bob’s US/UK comparison is given he lives in a relatively low cost of living area of the US. I think an NYC or SF comparison to the UK wouldn’t be as wildly different as comparing Winston Salem to the UK. I wonder how much cost of living varies across the UK?

    Not skewed at all, I think. I wasn’t thinking about Winston-Salem cost of living figures, but of average figures. Sure, COL is much higher in major metropolitan areas, and in blue states in general. But salaries are usually commensurate. It may cost as much to live in New York City as in London, but pay is also much, much higher in New York City than it is in London.

  4. BGrigg says:

    I have a friend who worked for a multinational accounting firm. He was getting paid over $120K in Vancouver BC, and he was transferred to London, where they paid him £120K. He was shocked at the pricing, but he was paid in relative terms, so it worked out for him.

    The expat Brits I know (there are almost 20,000 in the Okanagan Valley alone) were also shocked at the costs here. One guy sold a “flat” in the Canary Wharf area of London, that was around 800 sf for £500K, and took that money and bought two >2500 sf homes in Kelowna and became a landlord. He now has four houses.

  5. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Yes, there’s no doubt that Europeans in general are lazy compared to Americans. Our friend Alison was stunned when she first moved here from the UK. Her salary was literally three times what it was in the UK and everything cost half as much. But she got the standard two weeks of vacation here, where she’d had nine weeks in the UK. She was almost speechless when she learned that her vacation time would be bumped after she’d worked at Baptist Hospital for five years. All the way from two weeks to three weeks.

    Among salaried employees, the disconnect is even greater. Obviously, there are many exceptions, but in private industry here it’s pretty common for salaried employees to work much more than 40 hours a week. Quite often, someone who works only the standard 40 week and goes home is considered to lack commitment to his or her job, and is likely to damage his or her promotion prospects.

    My own attitude is that this is unhealthy, literally and figuratively. If I hire employees eventually, I won’t have any defined work hours or vacation policy. If someone runs out of things to do at 2:00 p.m. and wants to go home, why not? That same person would probably stay until 10:00 p.m. if necessary to get the work done. If someone wants to work 12 hours three days a week and take four days off, that’s fine, as long as they get their work done. If someone wants to telecommute full-time, that’s also fine. If someone wants to take six weeks off to go on safari in Africa, that’s fine, assuming we can cover for him/her. If a woman gets pregnant, it’s up to her when and for how long to take time off. If a man’s wife has a baby and he wants to stay at home, I’d try to make arrangements to let him do that.

    Interestingly, there are many companies who are doing pretty much just this, and their experiences have been pretty uniformly favorable. If you hire good people, they’re not going to abuse privileges, and flex-time benefits both the employee and the employer.

  6. Miles_Teg says:

    Bill write:

    “…and took that money and bought two >2500 sf homes in Kelowna and became a landlord.”

    What do you expect for a village on the border of the Yukon? 🙂

  7. Miles_Teg says:

    “…senior police officers (inspectors and above) make about £55,000/year (is an inspector really considered senior?), and a few other jobs pay £50,000 or more.”

    An inspector is fairly senior, but there can still be a lot of them. In about 1976 Terry Lewis was a poorly thought of inspector in the Queensland Police Service, stationed at (IIRC) a hellhole called Mount Isa in far western Queensland. He was about number 136 in the inspector rankings. When the number two position in the Queensland police became vacant the notoriously corrupt National Party government appointed him to it, over the heads of over 100 better officers. When the police commissioner resigned in protest Lewis was appointed to the top job. Lewis was notoriously corrupt even by Queensland standards. He got a knighthood but eventually he was exposed, jailed and stripped of his knighthood. Unfortunately the famously stupid and/or corrupt premier of Queensland at the time, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, didn’t get the jail time he deserved.

    As to the UK, I consider it to be a nice place to *visit*. Their summer is pleasantly warm but never hot in my experience. The beer tends to be cold nowadays, something I guess they learned from us. An English woman who worked here 20 years ago was desperate to live here, she and her hubbie would like to get a posting here and be able to live, I’m sure. A family from Bristol who have a sister in Adelaide have finally, after several failed attempts, been given permission to emigrate here. I don’t blame them for loving the place. One of my nieces, who was over there for 10 months was paid peanuts and lived in a tiny flat in Bristol, now she’s back here, thank goodness.

    As I said, a wonderful place to visit in the summer, but I’d choose almost anywhere else in the English speaking world in preference.

  8. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I consider an inspector to be a very junior police officer. It’s one step above sergeant, the equivalent of a lieutenant in military forces, which is about as junior an officer as you can get.

    As to Britain’s climate, I happen to prefer cool, drizzly, gray weather to warm, sunny days, but one good thing about the US is that you can have any climate you choose, from sub-arctic to tropical.

  9. Miles_Teg says:

    Well, in 1976 there were over 120 Inspectors in the Queensland Police. This in a state with a population of 3-4 million. I guess if you’re a newly minted police officer (or recruit to the armed forces) an Inspector/lieutenant must seem godlike. If you’re at the top of the food chain then an an Inspector/lieutenant is just a flunky who gets your tea and shows you where the loo is in unfamiliar places.

    If I was to live in the US I’d want a place with a Mediterranean climate, on the coast and not California. I’ve been told by two different Americans that Oregon is very nice. SC, NC and Va would be nice except for the tornadoes. I don’t like the cold or snow so that would rule out places further north. The ladies in Alabama have wonderful accents so that would be another nice choice.

  10. ech says:

    I saw some recent productivity figures from 2008 on hours worked per week:
    USA – 35 hrs/week
    Netherlands, Norway, Germany: 27
    France: 30
    UK: 32
    Australia : 33
    Japan, NZ: 34
    Who works more than the US?
    Mexico: 36
    Most of E. Europe: 38
    Greece: 41
    S. Korea: 44

    This lines up with the numbers we used to use for an FTE being about 1850 hrs/year – net of vacation, sick leave, & holidays. The number floated up and down based on how many weekdays there were in the year.

  11. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Problem in the US is that the places with climate I like, are not affordable. My body has a very tough time dealing with much humidity at all. That means most of the US is uncomfortable for much of the year for me. It also leaves Florida and the East Coast southern states out, as they are humid even in winter (aside from the fact that I have no intention of ever living in a former Confederate state, as their legal systems are corrupt and suck). Southern California, around San Diego is dry and heaven, but prices there reach the stars in that heaven. That leaves only the Pacific Northwest, and places like Oregon and Washington state were repeatedly choked by snow last winter. Which, on this continent, leaves B.C. as practically the only alternative.

    Humidity is not a problem in Europe, nor is nasty weather like snow storms, hurricanes and tornadoes, or floods (outside of the Alps). We very, very seldom had thunderstorms in Berlin, and those are both common and destructive in my part of the country. I also live in a part of the US known as tornado alley. Not fun. Additionally, we get several windstorms each year that will blow everything off the porch, which is even enclosed up to waist level. Crippling snowstorms happen at least a couple of times every winter around here.

    The worst we experienced in nearly 10 years in Berlin, were temps so unusually cold that train track switches froze up and delayed the trains. It seldom got up above 30°C/86°F in summers, and if it did, nighttime lows were back down to 15C/60F, which always made for comfortable sleeping without the need for air-conditioning. The rare windstorm of 25mph was thought to be a calamity, but here in Tiny Town, we quite occasionally have windstorms approaching 50mph, and nobody thinks that unusual.

    When the pilgrims wrote about the harsh North American climate, I now know what they were talking about. Europe is mild and lovely by comparison.

    As far as difference in salaries, there is a whole different attitude to life in Europe on the Continent (the UK is much more US-like). Acquiring lots of material things is not the goal, there. Most people live in modest-sized spaces by comparison to Americans. Americans stash unused stuff in closets, attics and basements, never to look at them again–often for decades. Europeans get rid of stuff they don’t use and are not ‘collectors’ of anything, like most Americans tend to be.

    Regarding Europeans as lazy, is incorrect, IMO. Having spent a lot of time in the UK (at least 2 years if all of it were added together) and nearly 10 years in Berlin, I do not believe the people I was around were lazy in the least. Having worked 60 hour weeks in the US with never more than 3 weeks of vacation (and mostly 2 weeks) for all of my fulltime working life, that is a killer pace that shortens life, IMO. In my experience, only secretaries and doctors in America work 8 hour days; everyone else–even the UPS man–work 10 to 12 hour days. Having lived with 2 week vacations and then in a land where 6 weeks is the norm, I can tell you that I performed MUCH better on the job, and was more healthy in that place with 6 weeks vacation.

    I suppose what constitutes living a useful life is open to debate, but the American obsession with money and material possessions and cracking the whip until the horse drops dead, is one of the reasons I maintain that America is not the home of the free. The whole society is constructed to suck life out of the working man. Few people I know in the US are happy with their lives–they are all waiting for something different–better job, retirement, (for some older people I know–to die), whatever–to make life enjoyable. Whereas people enjoy life as it is in Europe. Having been there, and now back to the hectic, materially-oriented life in America–I much prefer the European model.

  12. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Interesting, particularly since you lived in the northern tier, surrounded by (what is for Europe) hard-working Germans. I suspect if you’d spent much time in the southern tier you’d have found the pace of life too slow even for you.

    Of course, my attitude has always been that I won’t do something for a living that I wouldn’t do for free if I could afford to do so, so for me every day is filled with doing things I want to be doing. I can’t imagine working a job I hated. That’s why I’m not rich, nor do I have any desire to do what it would take to become so. Why bother? I’d still be doing what I’m doing, and I don’t particularly care about possessions.

  13. brad says:

    The UK is indeed a relatively poor country, in comparison to other Western European countries. Funnily, though, most people in the UK have no idea that this is so – it’s what they know, they don’t travel much to other countries, so they are seldom confronted with the comparison.

    I’m not sure what our host thinks about the smaller salary gap in Europe, but I find it a huge feature. I see that the UK (in dollars) the top/bottom salaries are roughly: Corporate manager $110000, Waitress $11000, or about 10:1. Here in Switzerland, it is even smaller, maybe 4:1. This represents a much higher bottom-end: even the cheapest housekeeper earns $15/hour, and $20/hour is more usual.

    The result is less separation into economic classes and a much more eclectic mixing of people. Find a group of people in a club, and you’ll find the waitress talking to the IT professional, the truck driver with the attorney. It makes for interesting conversations and a notable lack of elitism. The fly in the ointment are the big banks and the big international companies, which pay Wall-street-style salaries and bonuses to their upper management.

  14. brad says:

    While writing my comment, I see Chuck posted – I thought he would! I agree: more vacation, less “nose to the grindstone”. Having a pleasant life doesn’t mean laziness.

    It’s great to be able to earn a living doing something you love. However, not everyone has this luxury. It should still be possible to earn a decent wage, and get enough vacation time to relax, recover, and enjoy life. The two weeks vacation in the US is a killer in this respect – it’s no wonder that the US tops the charts for depression.

  15. Don Armstrong says:

    I think Inspector is effectively a more powerful rank than it might at first appear, because the command structure of most police forces is flatter than that of military forces. Natural, of course, as the police forces don’t have to be structured to withstand the wholesale massive and catastrophic destruction of officers and NCOs that can occur in military organisations during war. I also understand that the British style of police command structure was established way back when by Sir Robert Peel to deliberately avoid direct correspondence with military ranks, with the aim of making direct establishment of paramilitary police forces less easy.

  16. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I’m not sure what our host thinks about the smaller salary gap in Europe, but I find it a huge feature.

    I’m in favor of a much larger spread in incomes, based on free-market prices. A job that requires little in the way of specialized skills or education or intelligence or risk-taking (physical or financial) should pay very little. A job that requires more of any, let alone all, of those should pay much more.

    What we have is not a free market. In a free market, corporate employees could never earn seven- and eight-figure salaries. Those are entrepreneur/owner numbers. (In fact, in a free market there’d be no such thing as corporations.)

  17. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I think Inspector is effectively a more powerful rank than it might at first appear

    Well, my understanding is that in the British police forces and others modeled on them, an inspector has little authority or responsibility and certain in no way makes policy decisions. An inspector might be in charge of (for example) investigating relatively minor crimes such as routine property crimes, where he or she might lead a crew of anything from two or three juniors up to perhaps a dozen or so. Anything more than that, including investigations of serious crimes against persons or major property crimes, would be the province of a chief inspector, if not a superintendant. If anything, my impression is that an inspector in the British police system has less responsibility and authority than the nominal equivalent lieutenant in most US police forces.

  18. Rick says:

    Chuck Waggoner said:

    “Problem in the US is that the places with climate I like, are not affordable. My body has a very tough time dealing with much humidity at all. That means most of the US is uncomfortable for much of the year for me. It also leaves Florida and the East Coast southern states out, as they are humid even in winter (aside from the fact that I have no intention of ever living in a former Confederate state, as their legal systems are corrupt and suck). Southern California, around San Diego is dry and heaven, but prices there reach the stars in that heaven. That leaves only the Pacific Northwest, and places like Oregon and Washington state were repeatedly choked by snow last winter. Which, on this continent, leaves B.C. as practically the only alternative.”

    I don’t know where you got your information about Oregon being “choked by snow” last winter. Oregon is very diverse, geographically and climate-wise. I live in Portland. We had virtually no snow last winter. We typically get about a week of snow a year, which is a bother but not a major burden. We have some serious mountains in Oregon and they have snow at higher elevations all year. The coast is wet and mild. The Willamette Valley, where most of the population is, has a lot of rain, but not as much as the coast. Summers tend to be sunny and mild. Winters are cloudy and wet. Eastern Oregon is largely mountains and high desert. Lots of sun, but hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Washington’s climate is similar, although they did get more snow last winter.

    Oregon and Washington have significantly different tax structures. Oregon has no sales tax, but its income tax has a 9% top marginal rate, which kicks in quickly. Washington has a high sales tax but no state income tax. It does have a gross receipts tax for businesses. Both states have pretty liberal politics, although there is a significant difference between cities and rural areas.

    Rick in Portland

  19. BGrigg says:

    I was never a fan of the man or his company, but I always gave him his due as a marketing genius. Steve Jobs is too young to die at age 56.

  20. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I have a cousin who lives in Oregon–although I am not sure where. He and his wife are both lawyers, and–according to relatives who are closer to them than me–they were not able to get to work because of snow several times last winter. I will try and find out exactly where they live.

    Before I left my first fulltime job, I ganged together 3 weeks from one year with 3 weeks from the next year, for 6 weeks all at once. It was not until after 3 weeks that I even began to relax; the second 3 weeks was heavenly. Never had 3 weeks yearly ever again in the US, although I took that much once without pay for the last week.

    I worked in a high stress, high intensity field. I could stand that when I was younger than 40, but it really started getting to me after 40. I never was able to spend as much time with my kids as I wanted when they were growing up, either. I loved the work I was doing, but the work schedule sucked, and there was nothing I could do about that. “Goes with the job,” as they always said. I know from personal contact with people in TV in Berlin, that they are not so overworked or pressured.

  21. Miles_Teg says:

    I get 13 weeks Long Service Leave every 10 years, 4 weeks paid leave per year, and I “purchase” an extra eight weeks per year by taking a corresponding reduction in salary. I have enough money so the loss doesn’t bother me. I haven’t done paid overtime for 10 years or more. I like it that way.

    Vale Steve. I never bought any Apple products, the price premium was too high, but he seems like a likeable guy.

  22. paul jones says:

    Chuck is right about many things. He is wrong about tornadoes. Tornadoes are great fun. Wind is the normal state of the atmosphere. It’s hard for me to trust a place without wind.

    And whether it makes good economic sense or not, the (relatively) higher pay for service folks (cashiers, clerks, wait-staff, etc.) in Europe (and, indeed, everywhere else I’ve been outside the US) makes for much better service. I had a waiter in Argentina I would have voted for for president by the end of the evening. He was amazing.

  23. BGrigg says:

    Well, Canadians get paid slightly more on average that the Americans, and our service sucks. I much prefer the service you get in the US, at least in the cities I’ve visited. Even NY had excellent service.

  24. Miles_Teg says:

    One thing that really annoys me about the US is that wait staff get paid so little they *need* tips to make ends meet. And I really hate tipping. It changes the relationship between customer, staff and business owner in a way I detest. And they expect tips, even if they haven’t given good service. Staff should be paid properly, and if that means folding the tip into the bill that’s fine by me. Just knowing how much to tip various people was an extra thing to keep in mind when I was in the US.

    But, as Paul says, waiters can be funny, informed, whatever. Many years ago I went with a group of friends to a restaurant in Canberra called Fetishes. Our waiter was putting on a good act of being gay, not sure if he really was. When we were ordering dessert one of the girls was contemplating the apple strudel, but didn’t want to eat much more. She asked the fateful question “How big is it?” The waiter put on a mock air of offence and rage, saying “That’s just like a woman, they’re always thinking about size…” She went very red and the rest of the table laughed like crazy. It made our night.

  25. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Re: Jobs. I actually hated the Mac–both when it was introduced (and our desktop computer at work) and now;–it clearly is not the equal of the lowliest PC. But I absolutely adore my iPod. Having used all sorts of MP3 player devices over the last decade, the iPod soars above them on every score.

    I regret his death. He kept the world interesting–even when he was exiled from Apple and created NeXT and Pixar.

  26. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    I never liked Apple or Jobs. I think their motto should be videri quam esse.

    My last significant experience with Mac was on a borrowed mini running iMovie. I wanted something fast and easy to grab video from my camcorder and stitch together stuff to upload to YouTube. I found iMovie crude, awkward to use, and grossly under-featured. Conversely, the GPL’d Cinelerra running on Linux, although the interface is odd, is polished, easy to use even for a beginner, and has a full-complement of professional-level features that stay out of the way until you need them.

  27. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Yeah, I never have understood the interface in Cinelerra. It is like somebody brain-handicapped (or French) designed it–just like it was they who designed the current Walmart stores layout.

    When you put the cursor arrow on the timeline, why does that not select the spot where you click? And when you click, hold, and drag, why does that not select that portion of the timeline you just defined?

    Ardour–the Linux audio editor–is very similar in its quirkiness.

    Their capabilities are immense, but the interface really slows one down.

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